Joe The Player

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on April 29, 2010

PG found the story below at a site called downhillbothways . (spell check suggestion: downheartedness) DBW is a series of stories about life in Minneapolis, a place that PG has little desire to visit. It is supposed to be cold up there! Despite the overchill, the stories on DBW are sometimes fun to read.

The tale below came with a postscript.
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you considered sharing it with your friends in whatever way you like to do your internet sharing. You may also want to subscribe to downhillbothways . Thanks a lot for reading! -Abraham
PG considers that an invitation. The pictures are from the Atlanta Beltline. As much as PG hated the “Freedom Parkway”, he admits the graffiti under it is pretty cool.

Nicollet Mall is dead on Saturday nights. There are a few bars, but no clubs. Looking in the windows, you see loafers and handbags, not flashing lights and lonely people dry humping, like you do on Hennepin or First Avenue, 3 blocks west. You learn that knit ties are back in style as they rest around the neck of a male mannequin with a woman’s wig on.

And unlike the bumping bass and puerile disc jockeying over on Hennepin and First, there is little sound coming out of the streetside businesses on Nicollet. This makes the sounds that do interrupt the stillness all the more noticeable—the occasional cabs, the bus stop conversations, rain, the laughter of two guys smoking weed on the dry stretch of sidewalk beneath a skyway.

As I pass these two men, one asks if I have a light. I nod. He asks if he can “hit it” as if the lighter itself is a thing he can smoke. I hand him my Zippo and he ducks his head toward a wall away from the wind and watchful eyes and lights his imitation-cigarette one-hitter. His friend stares at me, frog-eyed and motionless, with what I assume is a smirk, given his state of mind and drug of choice.

When I get my lighter back, I walk on, away from the pleasant, yet incriminating, scent of marijuana and into the sounds of distant music. Some sort of bluesy hip-hop, it sounds like. Then it turns into a jazzy bit of trance as I get nearer. It’s perfect at first, an unlikely blend of ordinary noise creating a fresh, surprising genre.

But as the music becomes clearer with proximity, its serendipity wears thin. The music is falling apart. Tones and beats lose their places like Nurse Ratched left the asylum unlocked. I’m tweaked by the slight remorse of awakening from a pleasant dream.

It will never be heard again, that perfect song, nor—if I’m honest—was it ever heard at all. I imagined it. I created it with my innately and uniquely human ability to turn happenstance into consequence. And, like any given moment that you or I experience alone, it became nothing, or—I should say—nothing more than what I’d be able to make of it later, here.

Hearing the music with increasing accuracy as I came nearer to it didn’t make it wrong or bad, just incidental, accidental, the way you’d expect noise on a street to sound. And what’s the pleasure in finding things just the way you expected them to be?

I crossed 9th and closed in on the sources of my aural interest. I say sources because what I’d been hearing as such lovely and unusual music was only the fortuitous blend of a bar’s sidewalk speakers and a man playing his saxophone on the sidewalk nearby just outside the yellow haze of the well-lit alley he was next to.

I stopped for a moment and tried to feel the music I had a block ago. The sax euphoniously drifting like a kite in and out and through and over the sky created by the beat of the bar’s stereo. But it wasn’t there anymore. What was left was only what it was: a guy busking near a loud pub.

The sax stopped and I crossed the street without looking both ways toward the musician and his stage—a wide, dark, empty sidewalk. He saw me coming and didn’t start his next tune. I could only see his silhouette—black in front of the dark grey of the building he sat against—and the cherry of a tiny cigarette brightening and dimming with each draw like the red flash on top of a radio tower.

“How’s business?” I asked him, knowing already.“Slow.”“Yeah. How long you been out tonight?” His case was open beside him. There were perhaps a dozen ones and a five strewn in there along with a pack of Camels.“Bout a half hour.” “I don’t have any money, but I can leave you a smoke.”

His face brightened. “Yeah, I’ll take a couple o’ those. I lost a whole pack today.” I handed him two and sat down against a window several feet away.

He began to play again, his grey hands pressing the sticky buttons of his old alto sax, his raspy breaths wheezing into the brass and coming out in the plaintive yet adamant sounds of “Amazing Grace.” Each line ended with his wobbling head and wavering hands creating a vibrato no producer would allow on record but that everything in me shook along with.

He transitioned into “Swing Low.” Several people had passed and the most he’d received so far was a thumbs up. I wondered unhappily if my sitting near him hurt business. But I didn’t want to go. He was playing there on the street to be listened to, right? And that’s what I was doing, so it’s fine, right?

“Swing Low” drew to its quivering close as a man passing by stepped away from his lady to drop a dollar in the case. The busker grunted his gratitude and blew the first friendless notes of “Danny Boy.” I laid my head back against the window whose sill I was sitting on and felt the only way that one can feel while listening to a street musician play “Danny Boy” in the dark on an almost deserted street near midnight next to a yellow-lit alley.

When the song was done, he leaned over and picked up a dollar bill and began rubbing it in between the buttons of his instrument. “Damn things keep sticking,” he explained as he maneuvered his makeshift rag. “I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

“Alright,” I said, unresting my head and standing up. “I’m Abraham.” He shook my outreached hand. “Joe.” “Thanks for playing, Joe.” “Thanks for listening.”

I walked on, past the bar that a half-hour before had been the backing band in my brain for Joe’s lilting saxophonic riffs. Across 10th, there was a guy and a girl dancing for tips to the crackly sound of a cheap boombox (spell check suggestion: boomerang)turned all the way up.

Their choreography involved a couple impressive twirls and then each ominously simulating shooting themselves in the head. I was a half-block away by the time their routine was over, and I heard them behind me breathing hard and laughing. Looking back, I saw the girl taking a drink of water and the fellow picking up their tips and boombox.

It was the end of the night for street performers on Nicollet, it seemed. But then in the distance, behind me this time, I heard this whimsical bit of jazzy trance, a saxophone solo blending in and out of the most unlikely orchestration.

Ah, Joe. I smiled and felt like I was falling back asleep where it all makes sense. Apparently you just wanted me to leave—eh, Joe? That’s OK. You sounded good from where I sat, beside you, but you sound even better from here, further and further away, as I wander home and you make serendipitous music with a nearby stereo. Far from purposeful, close to perfect.

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